Today is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings where William of Normandy defeated Harold and changed England’s politics, culture and language forever. It also provides the background for The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge which opens with the execution of a displaced Saxon thegn and all but one of his sons (I wonder if anyone can guess who the surviving son turns out to be). The remaining chapters deal with the reunion of the Saxon, Aelric, and Constance, the sister-in-law of the Norman who condemned his family. It takes place after the Harrying of the North which was William’s response to uprisings against his rule. It was an act that devastated the North of England and the aftermath is touched on when Aelric and Constance reunite after an absence of seven years.
1066 is one of the dates that most people in England can remember, probably having been taught it in school. I’ve been on both sides of the desk and remember lists of unpronounceable names and descriptions of the battle which did little to capture the significance of the event. I did what I considered a very good comic strip of the battle aged 12 and still have a textbook from the 1980s knocking about somewhere, though looking back my art was well below the level of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Even without the schooling, it’s an event that has been in my consciousness from an early age thanks to two sources (other than the Bayeux Tapestry which any fule kno is really an embroidery). The wonderful 1066 And All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman (look it up, it has 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Things and 2 Genuine Dates) which kept me in stitches and was instrumental to developing a love of history, and Stanley Holloway’s monologue including the description of Harold ‘On his ‘orse with his ‘awk in his ‘and’. Here it is for your amusement, read by Tom Baker, aka the fourth Doctor.
Aelric has unsuccessfully tried to prevent the execution of his father. Only Constance’s intervention has stopped him receiving the same fate at the hands of her brother in law, Sir Robert, however she cannot prevent him receiving a public flogging. This scene takes place at night after Aelric has been left in the town square and Constance has borne the brunt of Robert’s anger.
She made her way to the marketplace. There was no light other than from the sliver of moon and the square was empty, everyone having returned home before the curfew. Although a soldier patrolled the boundary of the square, no one stood guard over the figure still bound by the wrists to the gallows. Presumably Robert believed no one would dare approach him after the afternoon’s display of authority.
The iron scent of blood hit her as she neared Aelric, turning her stomach. He was leaning the full weight of his body against the frame. He groaned and turned his head at the sound of Constance’s stick tapping.
His voice was a hoarse whisper of surprise. His hair flopped across his face. Constance smoothed it back, unable to tear her eyes from the bloody scab that was his mutilated ear.
She held a flask of wine to his lips and he drank greedily.
‘You’ll get into trouble,’ Aelric said.
‘I won’t be missed.’ Constance hoped it would be true.
She tipped water on to the cloths she’d brought and began to clean the crusted blood from his back. He stiffened his shoulders and gave a sharp intake of breath. She blushed as her fingers traced the contours of his shoulder blades and muscles. She was glad of the darkness.
‘Does it hurt a lot?’ she asked.
‘I can endure the pain,’ Aelric said bitterly. ‘You should have let them hang me.’
‘You don’t mean that!’
He twisted his head and gazed at her, his brow knotted. ‘At least I’d have died with honour. You’ve condemned me to live and die a slave knowing I failed to avenge my family.’
She’d come hoping to ease his suffering, but his tone was harsher than she’d ever heard. His words cut into her deeper than the rope that had split his back open. She couldn’t have watched him die, but how could she let him live the life he described?
‘You don’t have to,’ she whispered. She looked around cautiously and drew out her dagger, one of a pair that had been the legacy from her father. The blue stone in the hilt caught the light. Aelric’s eyes fell on it.
‘Make it swift,’ he said, his lips twisting downwards.
‘I’m not going to kill you!’ she exclaimed in shock. ‘I’m not a savage! What do you take me for?’
‘A Norman,’ he said bitterly, ignoring the implied insult.
‘Your friend,’ Constance said, biting back the hurt his words caused. ‘I came to free you. You can run away.’
Aelric’s eyes flickered. ‘It’s revenge I want. Where is the honour in running?’
Constance stepped back and threw her cloth to the ground in irritation. ‘Nowhere, probably. But why throw away your freedom for the sake of pride?’
‘Pride is all I have left,’ Aelric growled. ‘And vengeance.’
Constance picked up her stick and turned to walk away.
‘Wait!’ Aelric’s voice was urgent.
‘Why? I would free you because you aren’t a killer, not so you could become one. I’m not risking myself for that!’
‘You would put yourself in danger to help me? Why? Because I brought back your horse?’ Aelric asked. ‘Is that the only thing you will remember me for?’
‘You know it isn’t,’ Constance said quietly. She refused to let the memories out.
‘I don’t want you to come to harm,’ Aelric said, holding her gaze.
Constance felt again the sharp pain from Robert’s slaps, thought of Jeanne crying in the night and dead-eyed by day. If someone were to kill Robert she would not grieve, but Aelric would never succeed.
‘I’m being sent to a convent tomorrow, I’ll be safe. If I cut you down you have to swear to leave tonight and not to try to harm Robert.’
Aelric tugged at the bonds on his wrists. ‘If it will make you happy I won’t attempt to kill him.’
‘Swear,’ Constance said. ‘On something that matters.’
He looked furious, but she held his gaze until he sighed.
‘I swear by my honour, and on the name and soul of my father, Brunwulf, that I will not raise arms against Robert.’
She nodded, satisfied. Keeping her eyes from Aelric’s, she quickly cut the ropes binding him. Aelric sagged to the ground, massaging his wrists. Constance helped him to stand, warmth spreading along her fingers from his hands that were so cold.
‘Now I am in your debt,’ he said. He lifted her hand to his lips, then put his hand to her cheek, drew her close and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. Constance raised her head and brushed her lips against the edge of his mouth. She felt his lips twist into a smile.
‘I won’t forget what you’ve done for me,’ Aelric whispered.
The enormity of what she had done crashed over Constance. She did not want to think what Robert might do when he discovered the boy had disappeared in the night.
‘Take me with you,’ she asked impulsively.
‘You don’t mean that,’ Aelric said. ‘I don’t know where I’ll go, but it won’t be suitable for a girl used to the life you lead.’
‘I don’t care how hard it might be,’ Constance whispered.
‘I do,’ Aelric said firmly.
‘Please,’ she begged. ‘I have nothing to keep me here. We could be together.’
Her eyes filled with tears. She gazed into Aelric’s eyes and put a hand on his arm. He closed his hand over it.
‘I’ll wait by the old cowshed at the fork in the Bollin until dawn,’ he said. He gave a slight smile. ‘You know where I mean.’
Constance blushed and looked away, knowing very well where Aelric meant.
‘Take this,’ she said. She handed him the dagger. His hand tightened over hers then he slipped away.
She watched until he became a shadow and disappeared from view, then picked up her stick and returned to the house. She wouldn’t need much. She didn’t have much to take anyway. She made it back as far as the bedchamber and had pulled the dagger’s twin and her spare kirtle from the chest when a hand seized her hair roughly from behind. Robert hauled her to her feet.
‘Where have you been?’
‘Nowhere,’ Constance whimpered.
‘Liar! You were seen leaving the house,’ Robert bellowed. ‘Tell me the truth or I’ll beat it out of you.’
Robert slapped her without warning, the palm of his hand setting her cheek ablaze.
‘Nowhere,’ she repeated. If she told him now then Aelric would never escape.
Another slap. This time backhanded and with force that left her reeling. Robert unbuckled his belt.
‘I’ve tolerated your waywardness for too long,’ he said.
Constance tried to duck past him, but he pulled at the neck of her gown and swung her around. She landed heavily across the table face first, the stab of pain in her belly making her retch. Robert brought the leather strap down upon her, buckle end swinging free. Lights burst in Constance’s head as it caught the bare flesh of her shoulder and she screamed.
Abducted by Saxon outlaws, Constance Arnaud comes face-to-face with Aelric, a Saxon boy she once loved. He’s now her enemy, but Constance must reach out to this rebel and persuade him to save her life as she once saved his…
Aelric is determined to seek vengeance on the Normans who destroyed his family. Believing Constance deserted him, he can never trust her again. Yet, as they are thrown together and their longing for each other reignites, will Aelric discover that love is stronger than revenge?
I’ll be honest and say the cover doesn’t show the Aelric I had in my head because he’s a Saxon so really should be much blonder than reddish and with longer hair (he’s been living wild in the forests of Cheshire for years after all). I’d used Tom Hiddleston and Tom Felton as inspiration. Having said that, I love the pose and his brooding intensity. He does look like someone who might seriously consider whether to sacrifice the woman he loved to get his revenge on the man he hates.
The original cover was slightly different and I emailed my editor and asked if the hair colour could be changed and the art department worked their magic. The original and new covers are here for comparison.
It’s a December release so will be alongside Christmas books on the shelves so I think the candles give it a festive touch too.
So once a month I read a book by a local author and for the month of August that author is Elisabeth Hobbes. Now I met Elisabeth at the monthly meeting of The Knutsford Literary Society when she came to do a reading from The Blacksmith’s Wife. I found her backstory of how she became a published author fascinating and so I have a little Q&A here with her to find out more and share that with you. She also very kindly gave me a signed paperback copy of her book to review which was an absolute pleasure to read! I was a HUGE Mills and Boon fan as a teenager and it has been a revelation for me to be reintroduced to a genre that now publishes books monthly to suit all fans of romance from every time period possible! There is Viking romance…
I’ve been really enjoying writing my new story, so much that I’ve barely updated here for weeks. What better excuse than to share a little of what I’m doing.
It’s the tale of Roger Danby, Hal’s brother from The Blacksmith’s Wife. I was intrigued by what made him such an awful person and wondered if he could be redeemed so I’ve started to try. He’s not being well behaved though. What he did at the end of this excerpt – the first meeting between him and my heroine Lucy – took me by surprise as much as it did her.
‘The chickens were safely shut away for the night. Lucy Carew picked up the lantern from the ground and made her way round the side of the small barn back towards the door of the inn, swinging the light back and forth as she walked.
She closed the door and dropped the bar across. Shivering she unbuckled her cloak and hung it beside the fireplace. The fire was almost spent but she gave the remaining logs a half-hearted prod with the poker and sank onto the stool beside he hearth, enjoying the peace. The rain had eased but the earlier downpour had meant no customers had called since mid afternoon. If she had lived closer to one of the villages people might have called by but there were few travellers at this time of year and the road was quiet.
She took her cap off and unwound the plait, leaving her hair loose. Only a handful of tasks remained then she could go to bed early. Perhaps tomorrow she might wake less weary than she usually was. Her hopes were dashed as a loud hammering on the door made her jump. She was halfway to her feet when she caught herself and sat back down, torn as what to do. She badly needed the money that visitors would pay for their drinks but her head ached. Save for the lantern and the glow from the fire the inn was in darkness. If she sat quietly they would leave. She felt a pang of sympathy for whoever was about in the bad weather but not enough to rouse herself and let them in.
The hammering grew louder and more insistent. It was not going to cease.
A male voice bellowed, “I know someone is there. I saw your light.”
Lucy pushed herself from the stool. Clutching the poker behind her hand she crossed the room and eased up the bar and pulled the door open a crack. It was pushed open with unexpected violence from outside, causing her to spring out of the way with a gasp of alarm.
Two men pushed their way inside. One had his arm around the other’s shoulder and was being supported by his companion. His legs buckled and he staggered as he walked, moaning softly. His black hair was tangled over his face.
Lucy gritted her teeth.
“I don’t want drunks at this time of night,” she said firmly.
“He isn’t drunk, he’s hurt,” the man supporting him said. His words were heavily accented and Lucy struggled out make them out but realised he was not English. He drew a short sword from beneath his cloak and brandished it towards her. She gave a squeak of alarm, clutching the poker firmer in her hand and retreated to the bottom of the staircase.
The man she had taken for a drunk now raised his head that had been lolling to one side. He gave a wolfish grin beneath his thick beard but it was his eyes that transfixed Lucy. Deep brown and fixing her with a stare of such intensity that a sensation stirred inside her she had not felt in longer than she could remember. She felt a blush begin deep between her breasts that was only stayed from spreading by the realisation that his gaze was so intense because he was struggling to focus.
“Ambush,” the injured man slurred in an accent closer to Lucy’s own. “Don’t fear, little dove. We won’t hurt you. If you do what we ask.”
“Are you alone?” the foreigner demanded, raising his sword again and stepping towards Lucy, dragging his companion with him. “Has anyone else come this evening?”
“No one,” Lucy answered, sweat pooling in her lower back at the sight of the weapon. “I’m the only one here.”
Except for Robbie. A sob welled inside her as she thought of her son lying peacefully in his cot in the room above. If these men killed her it could be days before anyone found her, and who would think to look upstairs? Worse, she imagined the child clambering from his cot as he had recently begun to do and coming down to find her body.
“I’ll do whatever you want,” she whispered. “Only please don’t hurt me.”
“Good little dove,” the injured man slurred, grinning crookedly. “Be sensible and we all might live.” He said something in a foreign tongue. His companion frowned and replied.
“We take him upstairs,” the foreigner instructed. “Now!”
Lucy took a step back, shaking her head. Not to the floor where Robbie slept in peace, unaware of the events happening beneath him. She barred the way, finally revealing her poker and brandishing it like a sword. The injured man gave a wheezing laugh. Lurching forward unexpectedly he raised his left arm and knocked it out of her hand. He staggered, as if this had taken the last of his strength, and fell forward towards her. Instinctively Lucy reached her arms out to catch him, her hands sliding beneath his armpits. She stepped backwards and found herself wedged between him and the wall, his weight crushing her. Something sharp scratched her left shoulder through her heavy wool dress and she yelped in pain. She looked down to see the head of an arrow protruding from the man’s right shoulder.
“You’re really hurt!” she exclaimed.
“Don’t let me die unmourned, dove,” the man slurred, his voice deep and husky.
Before Lucy could think how to reply he had reached his left arm to the back of her head, tilted it back and covered her lips with his.’
You’ll have to wait a while to find out how Lucy deals with her unexpected visitor but in the meantime you can read the beginnings of Roger’s story in The Blacksmith’s Wife.
Santiago Cabrera is the inspiration for Roger. Not a bad match for Aidan Turner’s Hal or the cover model used.
With less than a week to go until the release of The Blacksmith’s Wife I thought I’d share a snippet. This is the first meeting between Hal and Joanna. Joanna has talked her way into the tournament grounds, hoping to find Sir Roger, the knight she is in love with.
Joanna made her way to the courtyard where makeshift stables and workshops had been assembled. She had given up hope of finding Sir Roger when, through a sudden parting in the crowd, she saw familiar black curls and glimpsed the line of his jaw just as he turned away.
A thrill of anticipation rippled through Joanna as she eased her way towards him. It had been six months since Sir Roger had last been in York. Despite the urge to run to his arms Joanna stood back and watched in admiration.
Sir Roger was facing away from her, sharpening a sword with slow, sure strokes. He had removed his armour and padded woollen tunic, but instead of the customary fitted doublet of fine wool he favoured, he was dressed in britches and a shapeless tunic drawn in at the waist with a thick belt. As Joanna watched he laid the sword on a trestle table, rolled his head from side to side and stretched his arms high.
Intending to surprise him Joanna crept behind him. She reached on tiptoe to whisper in his ear, her lips close enough to brush against his hair.
‘Greetings, my lord, I’ve been searching for you.’
He stiffened and turned to face her. Joanna found herself gazing up into Sir Roger’s eyes.
In the face of a stranger.
Her mouth fell open and she stumbled backwards away from the man, dropping her bag. Explanations and apologies tumbled unintelligibly from her lips.
‘I didn’t know… I thought you were… I mean… I’m sorry!’
The man folded his arms across his broad chest. His lips curled into an amused smile. Joanna took another step back, her mind whirling with confusion and embarrassment. Her voice tailed off. Her heart was pounding so loudly she would swear it must be audible. She covered her face with her hands in an attempt to conceal the blush that was turning her pale complexion scarlet and peered through her fingers.
It was little wonder she had mistaken the man for Sir Roger. From behind they shared the same build and unruly curls. Facing her there was still a resemblance. She noticed for the first time that what she had taken for a belt was a long leather apron tied about his waist. Whoever he was, the stranger was no knight.
‘I beg your forgiveness!’ Joanna said, wincing with embarrassment.
The man ran a hand through the tangle of black curls that fell to just below his ears. He eyed Joanna with an open interest that made her heart thump.
‘No forgiveness needed. I thought Lady Fortune was finally smiling on me but alas it seems not,’ he said with an exaggerated note of regret. ‘It’s been so long since I have had such a greeting that I believe I should be thanking you for the experience! Perhaps I will do as a companion?’ he suggested.
If that has whetted your appetite then the book is available at Amazon, B&N, Kobo and other online retailers. Preorder now
I also have an Amazon giveaway running until May 2nd which is open to readers in the US Enter here
The North York Moors – forged by nature, shaped by generations. Come and explore our National Park - 554 square miles of secluded dales, magical moors, ancient woodland, historic sites and 26 miles of stunning coastline, all easily reached from York, Teesside and County Durham. Read about our work here, and then pay us a visit!